Three years ago today I sat on my sofa with a beautiful, healthy, 4-week-old baby, at the start of my much-anticipated year of maternity leave. And I hated it.
I felt lost, tired and lonely. I begrudged my baby for taking up my precious time. I genuinely hadn’t considered quite how all-consuming life with a newborn baby would be (I naively bought a copy of Teach Yourself HTML and CSS to keep me busy. Yes, really.)
In short, I was an idiot. And 3 years on – sat on the same sofa while my kids take a rare nap at the same time – I can’t help but wish someone had taken me aside to explain a few home truths. Granted, I probably wouldn’t have listened. But here’s what I wish I could go back and tell that new mum on the sofa…
1. You do not have to launch a business.
Or write a novel. Or learn Mandarin. Yes, every magazine you read at the moment seems to be full of ‘inspirational’ women who’ve done all of those things while they’ve been ‘off’ work, and good for them. But you know what? All you need to do right now is get to the end of each day with a scrap of sanity and a baby who’s clean(ish), fed and still breathing.
2. You are allowed to sit and do nothing.
As in, absolutely nothing. If the baby is asleep on your chest and you can’t move from the sofa, that’s OK. In fact, it’s what Homes Under the Hammer was made for. This time doesn’t need to be filled with ‘something useful’. You sitting there, on that sofa, with the baby on your chest, is ‘something useful’. You will realise this one day, when it’s too late.
3. You will not get this time again.
Yes, you’ll have another baby, and you’ll have another year ‘off’. But it won’t be the same the second time around because this baby will be a toddler and that toddler won’t ever want to sit still. I know you get annoyed when people tell you this. But please, just try to hear them and know that what you see as boring today will seem like a luxury in a couple of years.
4. You don’t have to enjoy it.
Newsflash: sleepless nights are no fun. You don’t have to pretend you’re enjoying them. And you don’t have to feel bad that you’re not. Chances are, the well-meaning friend who chirps ‘enjoy every moment’ isn’t up for the fifth time that night, with cracked nipples and a screaming baby. It’s OK that this is no fun right now, and it’s OK to say it.
5. Your career will never be the same.
For better or for worse, it just won’t. Sorry. Yes, I know you think you’ll waltz back into your job and everything will be just as it was. I won’t bore you with the specifics, but it won’t be. Get used to the idea now, be prepared for change, and try to be open-minded about the future.
6. Your body won’t always be like this.
I know you feel like a frump and you barely recognise yourself in the mirror. But it IS temporary. You’ll get back into your jeans – they’ll just fit differently from now on. Everything will. On the other hand, listen to your husband when he says your boobs look amazing. He’s right – they do. Unfortunately they’re temporary, too.
7. You need to accept help.
Those offers of casseroles and cleaning and child-free time? Take them. Every single one of them. It’s OK to not be the magazine mum who can juggle the dinner and the cleaning and the childcare and still look like she’s jumped straight out of the pages of Good Housekeeping. It’s embarassing that you can’t find any clean pants or socks, and you’re eating Cornflakes out of a saucepan. I get that. But those women offering you help? They’ve all been there. Saucepans and all.
8. You are going to be a great mum.
I know you’re wondering what the hell you’ve done. I know you secretly keep questioning if you’d do it again, if you could go back. And I know you feel guilty that, right now, the answer is probably no. But fast-forward a few years and you’re doing it. You’re a fully-fledged mum, figuring things out as you go along, with 2 little people who look up to you as their everything. And it’s only now you realise that you wouldn’t have it any other way.